Movie Review: City of Ember

City of Ember
Directed by Gil Kenan
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Harry Treadaway, Bill Murray, Toby Jones, Tim Robbins, Martin Landau
Rated PG
Release date: October 10, 2008

Fantasy films are a tough business these days. Unless your movie features a character named Frodo Baggins or Harry Potter, it’s doomed to go straight from a brief theatrical run to having to find any sign of shelf life on DVD. But damn if the major studios don’t persist, opening their checkbooks to hire the best cinematic artisans money can buy in the hopes that whatever modestly successful children’s book they purchase the rights to will break the curse and rake in the dough at the box office. As a result us moviegoers have had to endure the likes of Eragon, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Seeker: The Dark is Rising, and The Spiderwick Chronicles. Some of these movies were good in their own way, but they only proved to demonstrate that all of the millions of dollars in big-name stars and expensive visual effects can’t match the movies we create instantly in our mind when we lose ourselves in the pages of a good book.

But they do try, and as I mentioned before every once in a while a popular fantasy book series such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter not only break through to become critically and financially successful, but also transcend the typical temporary blockbuster popularity and become pop culture touchstones. I don’t see that happening for City of Ember, the latest film from Monster House director Gil Kenan, but it is a much stronger film than Hollywood has produced for the youth market this year and I would recommend it to anyone looking for an intelligent and visually sumptuous fantasy with a good story. But that’s not to say the movie is without its share of problems.

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Box Office Buzz: Oh Why Oh WHY? ‘Chihuahua’ Top Dog Again… Again?!

Whether it’s the fact that the movie-gods have an unhealthy obsession with chihuahua’s or moviegoers have just gotten sick of seeing good movies, Beverly Hills Chihuahua has once again taken top spot at the box office this weekend.

Starring the voice talents of such luminaries as Andy Garcia, Cheech Marin, Edward James Olmos , and Jamie Lee Curtis, not to mention Drew Barrymore, the movie once again nabbed number one with a total take of $17.5 million.

Spots two and three went to two newcomers, thankfully. Quarantine managed itself $14.2 million and Body of Lies an equally respectful $13.1 million.

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New ‘City of Ember’ Theatrical Poster
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Fox Walden sent us a high-res version of the official theatrical poster for their upcoming fantasy film, City of Ember.

Check out the poster here at right; click for larger view.

An unofficial non-approved version of the poster appeared online earlier today, but this one here came directly from the studio and is the final image.

The script, based on based on the book by Jeanne Duprau, is by Caroline Thompson, who wrote Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. That right there should be enough to grab your attention. Add to that Atonement‘s breakout child star Saoirse Ronan in the lead role, as well as screen vets Bill Murray, Tim Robbins, and Martin Landau and this is definitely a classic movie in the making.

The Gil Kenan-directed film, which also stars Toby Jones and Harry Treadaway, hits theaters October 10, 2008.

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SDCC 08: Conversations with GoD: ‘City of Ember’ Director Gil Kenan
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While at the San Diego Comic Con this past weekend, I had the chance to sit down one-on-one with Gil Kenan, the Israel-American director of the Academy Award-nominated motion-capture animated Monster House.

While relaxing casually on the back upper patio at the convention center, Kenan talked to me mainly about his latest project, City of Ember, the big-screen adaptation of the Jeanne Duprau children’s fantasy novel.

Kenan gave a few details on his big-screen adaptation for City of Ember, which will be released in theaters by Fox Walden on October 10, 2008, and a bit about how Tom Hanks became involved with the film as a producer.

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